Thursday, February 24, 2011


We interrupt this blog, and our Very Important Work, for a very important message: We are pleased to announce that Evelyn Marie was born to Christina and Dave Quekett on February 18 at 9:02 p.m., weighing seven pounds, 19 inches. Or as we learned the news here, she was born February 19 at 7:02 a.m., weighing 3.18 kg, 47.88 cm. It is yet unclear to us if the 19” is her height or her length. Through the magic of 21st century technology, we were able to see her 14 hours later, here, over 10,000 miles away and somewhere in the 1940s. Thank you, Skype.
From our vantage here, deep in Africa, we recognize the blessings of the accident of her birth. She has proud, loving, healthy and well educated parents, in a land of plenty; she can expect a long, healthy and productive life with her personal rights guaranteed and gender equality. As one of our correspondents wrote, “…she could become president of the Peace Corps”. To contrast this with a newborn in Africa, see the statistics included in a recent blog we published.
To celebrate the event, Debbie baked a batch of cupcakes, I added an American flag to each one, and I distributed them to our neighbors with the announcement that we were celebrating the addition of a new American. (I went on to convert the seven pounds to kilograms but multiplied in my head instead of divided. When I came up with over 14 kg, I was met with blank looks until our next door neighbor said their babies were usually three to four kg. I quickly corrected my error.)
Evelyn Marie, we send you our best wishes and all our love; siyincaba, hamba kahle.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011


Debbie has relinquished the computer for a few moments, which caught me by surprise, so I don’t have a blog ready to publish. So let me quickly bring you up to date with the help of the Swazi Times. But before the news items, a brief summary of our status: We both had Very Important Work last week and by the end of the week we were each leaving three tracks, so we had a very quiet and relaxing weekend. Saturday, though, we had no water all day, and Sunday, we had no electricity all day. Today, the whole kingdom was without internet service. Yesterday we had a play date with the pre-schoolers and spent about an hour with around 30 kids. We anticipate this will be a weekly event. And now a few select news items:

School was cancelled in the Hhohho region last week after the heavy rains raised the risk of crocodiles. (Not something you see in the Seattle Times with frequency.)
A January 28 seminar will be postponed (‘news’ from the Feb 8 edition).
A group of students were arrested, fined, and sentenced for chanting a folk song substituting their own lyrics which were not favorable to the king. (Protect your first amendment rights.)
Finally, following a recent post of our blog, Gilbert N. Sullivan wrote, “I pasted all the paper so care-fully, and now I have an office in the li-brary”.

And a few updated statistics from Swaziland:
There are about 130,000 orphaned and vulnerable children here.
38% of children live with mother only; 34% don’t live with either parent; 22% of children live with both parents.
1/3 who start grade one won't complete grade 7.
29% of children under 5 are stunted.
40% OVC don’t have minimum of 1 pair shoes, 2 sets of clothes, or 1 meal a day
One of three girls experiences sexual violence before 18.
47% nationally manifest clinical malnutrition.
These data are the result of poverty, food insecurity, and breakdown in family structure due to HIV/AIDS.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011


So now it is my turn to try and tell you about my day. I work for Good Shepherd Hospital about 3 or 4 days a week, but some of the days are working at home on the computer. On a typical day that I go to the hospital, I leave the apartment about 8 AM to be greeted by the students here on campus. They all smile, wave, sign hello, and I get an occasional hug. Some are pretty affectionate and I guard my white lab coat as I walk (remember all laundry is done by hand). It is a 25 minute walk. Some days, if it has rained, it is a slip and a slide in the mud, guarding my lab coat, until I get to the tar road. At the tar road I am joined by Swazis either walking to work or school. There are a lot of exchanges of greetings and smiles. The walk is pretty and I enjoy the scenery on the way to work as I know it will be much hotter on the way home.

At the hospital I am greeted by, “Sawubona, Siphiwo.” Some of the doctors call me by my American name but mostly I am Siphiwo at the hospital. I am working with the Senior Matron (Director of Nursing) and the Quality Improvement Department. There was a flurry of activity in the last couple of years because a South African Accreditation Agency was brought in by the Swaziland Government to help improve quality. GSH has been reviewed 11 times, going from a score in the 20s to a score in the 60s, the second best in the land. I am so impressed with what they have done, with no training except for what they could find on the internet, and a lot of hard work. It is hard to believe that in this land of HIV and TB, they didn’t have an Infection Control Nurse at the hospital until 2008. HIV education was just added to the Nursing curriculum in Swaziland this year, so what the Infection Control nurse knows, he got from the internet, as well. But I digress. I have been told, “I am a gift from God” (how intimidating is that!) as now they have someone in the flesh that can help them out. The problem is where to start, although I guess that was decided for me as the Senior Matron wants the policies organized and meeting accreditation standards. So currently I am working on an electronic policy data base as it is not really known what policies they have nor what they need. So, part of my day is spent going from department to department figuring out the current state of things. Sometimes the policies I find remind me I am in Africa, like the one from Maintenance on how to make crutches. Sure enough, I was in Maintenance Dept. the other day, talking to the Director, and in the corner of the room was a bunch of wooden crutches made from tree branches. I was rather impressed by their quality. Another part of my current work is helping the QI department produce a realistic work plan for the next twelve months. High on my list is a TB infection control program as it is the second most frequent diagnosis and I worry about staff contracting the disease as I often see them in the TB wards with inadequate masks. Hopefully, I can persuade the QI team that it should be high on their work plan. Lastly, I am starting to work with Home Based Care to improve discharge planning from the hospital to their service. All this work goes by fits and starts as often meetings are cancelled, a problem throughout Africa, and operating on Africa time, which means no one arrives on time to the meetings we do have. It is frustrating, but my main job is to build on something that is sustainable, so I have to accommodate to their work pace and culture. This means, among other things, 10 AM tea breaks, even in the busiest and hottest of days, and hour lunches at 1 PM.

The hardest part of my job is to keep everything in perspective. It is so easy to be paralyzed with the sadness of 4 year olds with TB and HIV, or a mother’s tears when her toddler is just diagnosed with HIV. It so could have been me or my children born in this country, plagued with remnants of colonialism, corruption, gender inequality, disease and poverty. But instead, I am healthy, well-educated, and in eighteen months, I will fly back to my suburban lifestyle and not be afraid of what disease might catch my grandchildren. I can’t be angry and sad for the rest of my stay here. But I also don’t want to get to the place where I don’t see the suffering. Finding the balance and being okay with what I can accomplish will be the challenge of my time here.

So at the end of the day, I take out the umbrella to keep the sun off my mhlope skin, and hurry home to the noise and smiles of the students on campus. This time I don’t care how rumpled my lab coat gets.

Sunday, February 6, 2011


No sleeping in today, even though it’s Saturday, because I have a meeting to get to in Manzini, so I’m up at the usual week-day time, breakfast trying not to wake Debbie (couldn’t be done if we were still in a rondeval), then I step into the sub-Kalahari humidity and begin melting. As I cross a quiet and deserted campus, I am greeted by “Whirling Dervish” who is SO Happy to see me and clings to me in an eternal hug. Leaving campus, the guard (yes, our palace is in a gated community) grins at me and there is much genuflecting, hands in prayer position, and we exchange the customary siSwati greetings. I’m passed at the top of our driveway hill by a runner and the aroma hangs heavy in the humid morning air until he is 200 meters ahead of me. Starting into town, I meet three fierce looking young bucks, dressed poorly, who fan out as I approach. It’s intimidating if not a little fearful. I smile and say, “sani bonani, bobhuti”, and they all break into smiles to say, “yebo, babe”. In-country seven months now, we don’t know if they are laughing at our accents or pleased with our attempts at siSwati.
Bomake are already on the road into town with heavy loads on their heads, babies strapped on their backs, and everyone is walking about half my pace.
When I get to the bus ranks, the conductors urge me toward the khumbies and I walk purposely past them to find a bus to Manzini. I sit a few minutes through the usual shouting, whistling, and horn honking, until it begins leaving promptly but, as usual, stops just beyond the bus ranks to pick up passengers who are operating on Africa time and couldn’t board in the ranks. I am momentarily amazed because the bus is nearly empty and there is NO MUSIC. Two young girls stare at me in curiosity. We get a beautiful view into the broad, green valley as we start down the high Siteki grade and I can see the route of the road as it cuts straight through the middle bushveld. The buses have a window bar right at eye level which prevents easy viewing. The two girls continue to stare at mlungu, so I take out my Newsweek and settle in for the remainder of the ride—interrupted by an SMS from Debbie giving me a grocery list to the interest of the girls. The temperature noticeably rises as the day begins and we drive through the lowveld.
When we pass acacia trees and the bus begins laboring to go uphill, I give up my struggle to focus on Newsweek and don my clip-on dark glasses to view the scenery, the south end of the Lubombo plateau in the distance. This causes the girls to look at me with amazement.
The trip has taken longer than the usual 75 minutes because of frequent stops to pick up passengers and I realize most seats are now filled.
The acacia change to eucalyptus and it’s time to prepare to transit the Manzini ranks, so I distribute my money among my pockets and close my portfolio. As I exit the bus, I hear a few calls of “umlungu” and I’m not sure if they are taunting me or warning me of an approaching bus which I must dodge because vehicles always seem to take the right of way. I’m barely on time for my meeting which, being Americans, begins promptly.
After the meeting and lunch with PCVs, I walk back through busy, bustling Manzini, thread my way through the bus ranks and board a baking bus and get the last seat that a young mother offers me by putting her baby on her lap. It is an aisle seat about a third of the way back and following me are a few hundred more people who pass me hoping to find a space in the rear of the bus, and each time someone passes, I get bumped by boxes, bags, babies, boobs or butts. I get to Siteki in time to satisfy Debbie’s shopping list, then walk home with the groceries to find she is making eggplant parmesan and a green salad which we enjoy with a South African wine. After the rigors of a day in Swaziland, I find the comforts of home.

Saturday, February 5, 2011


First, an apology to those who were planning a short flight to visit us in the Caribbean (site of our Nomination). If you want to hear God laugh, tell him your plans.

Our “Invitation” brought us to Swaziland where the incidence of HIV continues to be the highest in the world. Every PCV in the kingdom falls under the sector of Community Health. Debbie is in Community Health and Education; Gary was invited to work with Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs). Group 8 is the first group in SD to include NGOs. In all of pre-service training, we had thirty minutes of discussion about NGOs; for another half-hour, we 14 NGOs asked our APCD questions about NGOs, and his response was, “I’ll get back to you on that”. Group 9 will include educators, though still in the Community Health sector, not the Education sector. Stick with me here.
(Debbie just got back from a planning and strategy meeting and learned that there will be no NGOs in Group 9. Read on.)

At placement, we accepted the offer of our palace on this campus. Obviously, this falls under the Ministry of Education which means I’m not technically NGO (although PC still considers me NGO). Debbie was assigned an NGO to work with (somewhere along the line they began considering her NGO, also), but her counterpart would never play ball, and through various connections and some serendipity, Debbie is now firmly entrenched at the hospital, which is a Faith Based Organization, not an NGO. It is my elevated pseudo-NGO status and my Very Important Work that puts us on this campus. If not for that we would likely be rural health workers somewhere in the bush, living in a hut or a rondeval with a tin roof, perhaps being cooked in the lowveld, and without running water or electricity.

So in exchange for our palatial setting, I ‘pay the rent’ by agreeing to take on the tasks and chores of helping in the campus library. Shortly after we were placed here, the teacher-librarian was promoted, moved away, and I was told, “It’s your library; do what you want with it.”

My Very Important Work consists of registering the ‘new’ books, reinforcing them, getting them ready for circulation by pasting the date slip and the book plate pocket inside the back cover. We have no card stock, no paper cutter, and not even a tape dispenser, so everything is done by hand, double pasting photo-copies and cutting tape with scissors. It is tedious, menial, labor intensive and time consuming work that could probably be done by a trained monkey. On top of that, the donated books are cast-offs that have been colored in, scribbled on, pages torn out, and the batteries are dead so they no longer “talk”. And how much time should you put into a six-page book with cardboard pages that has no plot or conclusion? “Albert the duck is happy on his pond”. So? What is in the mind of an author of pre-reader books? I often wonder what my major professor would think of me now; or are my kids really proud to say that their father pastes slips of paper into old books? However, I take pride in pasting them straight and in having the cleanest glue pot in the kingdom, and at the end of the day, I go home singing, “I polished up the handle so care-fully, and now I am a Captain in the Queen’s navy”.

Debbie has told me I’m being too negative, so a few positive words: I’m developing meaningful relationships with some students; I’ve started an open door policy at the library that provides the students a place to go after school lets out; we accomplished the application process to obtain a thousand books from Books for Africa; I am mentoring a new Swazi Librarian; I’ve just been made an assistant in the health club (Very Important Work); I’m starting to create an HIV class (there is none extant); I have organized the non-fiction by Dewey classification and the fiction by reader level, and I’m learning to sign. And, I maintain the image of the one and only mlungu mkhulu (white grandfather) in the community. Hardly leaves time for my Very Important Work. Perhaps if there is anything to learn from this, it is to bloom where you’re planted. And I hope that answers Kathy’s question.

Next question, please.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011


I missed the first day of school of the new year because I went to Pretoria. Upon my return, I was warmly welcomed with lots of hand shaking and hugging. ‘Gimpy’ couldn’t keep his hands off of me and finally gave me a full frontal hug; ‘Whirling Dervish’ couldn’t stand still but made several attack maneuvers, grinning all the time and shouting, until he finally whirled away; and ‘G.I.Joe’ came up to me grinning, turned around and leaned his back against my legs until I picked him up. He is the smallest in the school (after pre-school), has a delightful, care-free personality, and comes barely up to my belt buckle. The origin of his name is from when I first met him and he was wearing a fatigue jacket with an American flag on the shoulder. These three don’t ad lib in sign much, yet, beyond “Hello”. (My sign vocabulary slightly exceeds theirs, so far.) Later, in the library, the upper level students would renew our acquaintance by writing their names for me (which I promptly forget—names as Sijabu, Gcinile, Anaile, Tandzile, Themba, and Tonone. If they were Tom, Dick, and Mary, I’d more likely remember them. Faith, I remember.)

All of the kids on campus are deaf (to answer Lisa’s question), some profoundly, and others occasionally wear hearing aids. At assembly, the little ones kind of wave their hands around, pretending to sign, with blank looks on their faces, and as you move through the ranks, the motions become more distinct, meaningful, and in unison. (Ranks and files are created by class and height; smallest, left-front to tallest, right-rear; and you better toe the line and be sure your file is straight!) Last term, they ‘sang’ the National Anthem every morning at assembly, so by the end of the term I was finally brave enough to join in. This term they open only with prayer, which I’ve not attempted yet. The upper level kids sign so fast that it’s discouraging, but I’ll begin meeting with my tutor again this afternoon. I am encouraged occasionally when I can communicate with the older kids when we work together; the younger ones simply repeat the same sign again, wondering why I don’t understand them.

I was going to answer Kathy’s question in this blog, but it is so complex that I lie awake at night trying to formulate an answer and decided it will be the subject of a blog of its own. I shall paraphrase simply, “What is a nice guy like you doing in a library, of all places, creating a curriculum on HIV, of all things, for primary-age kids who are deaf, in Africa?”.

Finally, I’ll answer Leonard’s question: The price of petrol at the pump is E8.65 per liter. Dividing by an exchange rate of 6.8 would make it $1.27 per liter, and converting to gallons (which I hate to do because it is an awkward, stupid measurement) would make the price $4.815. It doesn’t matter if you buy at Galp, Engen, CalTex, or Shell, or anywhere in the kingdom, the price will be the same because the price is set by the government. I recommend you fill up at home before driving to Siteki.